TVWS – Cheap broadband for rural South Africa

One of the biggest problems with rural areas – even in developed countries – is the lack of broadband coverage.

Stats SA research revealed in its annual General Household Survey that close to 90% of South African households do not have access to a fixed broadband Internet connection at home, meaning that broadband penetration in rural areas is close to zero.

Axiz Business Development Manager Nicole Naidoo said there are various factors which may prohibit the ability of organisations to install high-speed broadband in rural areas.

“Rural areas are often remote and have varying degrees of terrain, rendering laying cable or fibre not only extremely difficult but prohibitive in terms of costs,” Naidoo said.

However, she added that there is already a reliable and inexpensive solution available – TVWS.

“Television white space (TVWS) has the ability to completely transform the way citizens buy and use wireless internet across the African continent,” she said.

What is TVWS?

TVWS exploits unused broadcasting frequencies within the wireless spectrum for TV broadcasts.

“If you cast your mind back to the days of the old analogue TV sets of our youth, where we had to manually tune in to the channels we wanted,” Naidoo said.

“While trying to find what we were looking for, there were empty spaces with lots of ‘snow’ between stations. These are in essence, what white spaces are.”

“TV networks leave these gaps in between channels for the purpose of buffering, but this very space can be harnessed to deliver internet,” she added.

“It is ideal for rural areas, as the signal can travel up to 50 kilometres and over rough terrain to reach these areas that are inaccessible or hard to reach.”

TVWS is far more cost-effective for delivering rural broadband than satellite and other solutions, and has the potential to create an entire new industry around rural broadband in South Africa.

“In some countries where there are a wide variety of signal distributors and hundreds of stations, white spaces are few and the allocation of these unused channels is an issue, as users can experience interference when watching their favourite TV shows or sports. We don’t have this problem in South Africa or Africa as a whole. We have comparatively few broadcasters and plenty of spectrum, meaning disruptions are rare,” she said.

The technology provides five-times the range, coverage, and penetration of Wi-Fi, can be powered by solar, and does not require any spectrum licence to be employed.

Naidoo said that ICC Networking (ICCN) is the only vendor that has TVWS technology which is type approved by ICASA, and Axiz works closely with ICCN to deliver intelligent TVWS technology to customers across Africa.

Development and applications

Naidoo added that there are several TVWS concepts being developed.

“Watch this space for details,” she said. “TVWS enables broadband where none has been possible before, helping to connect Africa, which in turn promotes economic growth and stability.”

One year ago, a South African startup named AfriCanopy gained approval for a TVWS trial project in KwaZulu-Natal, where it would provide 85,000 residents with Internet access using the technology.

The TVWS base stations in this deployment were 16km apart and provided coverage of up to 20km, with the network offering combined uplink and downlink speeds of 169Mbps.

More recently, the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA) received funding from the US Trade and Development Agency to aid in the rollout of a TV White Space (TVWS) network.

This project also aims to deliver affordable Internet access to rural and semi-rural areas in South Africa using TVWS technology.

The project is led by a consortium of companies which includes Microsoft, IDC, and Adaptrum.

Now read: Prepare for a fight over South Africa’s 5G “golden band”

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TVWS – Cheap broadband for rural South Africa